Pantilimon: ‘Watford can reach Wembley. Why not?’

Costel Pantilimon, an FA Cup finalist with Manchester City, says it’s important this Watford team retain the belief they can reach the final as he prepares to pit his wits against the joint most successful FA Cup goalkeeper or arguably the goalkeeper who was the player of the fifth-round in next month’s quarter-final.

Watford will play either Petr Cech’s Arsenal or Hull, who were kept in the competition by the outstanding Eldin Jakupovic on Saturday, in the last eight of the FA Cup. Whether the tie is at the KC Stadium or the Emirates, Pantilimon is certain to be the Hornets’ No.1 that day as the club chase a sixth appearance in the semi-final.

“I hope to be there,” said Pantilimon. “We believe. When you are here [at this stage], it’s normal to believe. This is the key, to believe. Why not? We are a strong team. It’s not like luck [we have got this far]. We deserve it. We played well, we are focussed on every minute.”

Picture by Paul Dawson
Picture (plus main) by Paul Dawson

Pantilimon will be forgiven for thinking the planets are starting to align for Watford in their Wembley bid as this cup run is eerily similar to his run with Manchester City in 2013. He reached the final with Roberto Mancini’s side that year and kept a clean sheet in every round as he deputised for Joe Hart, knocking out Leeds United in the fifth round, too.

“It is exactly what a keeper wants: a clean sheet and the team wins,” he said. ” I did it before without [conceding] a goal. I hope to do it again. It’s a nice competition and I know how to play this competition. I think we can do it. It’s an important trophy for me, the only one [in England] I don’t have on my CV. I hope to have it in the future.”

Picture by Franziska Empl
Picture by Franziska Empl

In one of the cruelest team selections in recent seasons, the Romanian was dropped for the final against Ben Watson’s Wigan Athletic. Hart played instead and Pantilimon admits it was the lowest point of his career.

“[Quique] has not promised me anything,” he said when asked if he would expect to keep Heurelho Gomes out of the team if Watford made the final. “He just lets me play and he doesn’t have to speak too much. If he gives me the chance, that’s the most important thing. It’s the decision for the manager.”

Pantilimon barely had a save to make against Leeds United as the back four and holding midfielders executed Quique Sanchez Flores’ beloved block to perfection.

“We look like a consistent team, we look strong, we control both games [the last rounds],” Pantilimon said. “Sometimes you need luck but I think we deserve it. We had chances. We are strong in defence and to win a trophy you must have a good defence. What I find here, I find a good team, a strong defence, a balanced team. The results are very good.”

  • Additional reporting by David Anderson